A Place of Beauty and Extremes

A Place of Beauty and Extremes

In the Hawaiian Islands, one can hike to a secluded mountain waterfall, surf the ocean waves, or just lie on a sandy beach and watch tropicbirds soar overhead as rainbows form and dissipate over warm, aquamarine waters. The natural environment of the Hawaiian Islands is an ever-changing panorama of spectacular vistas and limitless opportunities for appreciation of nature’s wonders.

The Hawaiian archipelago is also a place of extremes. Hawai‘i Island’s Kīlauea Volcano is the most continuously active volcano on Earth. Moloka‘i’s seacliffs are among the tallest on the planet, and Moloka‘i’s reefs among the world’s richest.

On the island of Kaua‘i, a volcanic mountain called Wai‘ale‘ale is one of the rainiest spots on Earth, and stands between three other equally amazing places: the steep cliffs and spires of the Nāpali Coast, the deeply-carved Waimea Canyon, and the world’s highest swamp, the Alaka‘i, where extremely acidic soils produce dwarfed ‘ōhi‘a lehua trees alongside rare carnivorous plants called mikinalo, which means, “to suck flies.”

In subterranean lava tubes on Kaua‘i are sightless spiders that use their front legs as acoustic antennae to chase down translucent crickets. Atop snowy Mauna Kea Volcano on Hawai‘i Island is the tiny wēkiu bug (Nysius wekiuicola) that has developed an antifreeze substance in its blood and survives by catching insects from the wind. Wēkiu means “Summit,” or “Peak.”[i]

A Hawaiian saying states: “He pua no ka wēkiu.” (“A blossom on the topmost branch.”), which is explained as “Praise of an outstanding person.”[ii]

The towering Mauna Kea Volcano rises up more than 6 miles (9.7 km) from the ocean bottom. Measured from base to summit, Mauna Kea is more than 1,000 feet (305 m) taller than Mount Everest, which is the tallest mountain on Earth measured from sea level.

Mauna Kea’s summit rises 13,796 feet (4,205 m) above sea level, and is considered the best place on Earth to look toward the heavens, and the astronomical observatories atop Mauna Kea have no equal.

The Hawaiian Islands may also be a dangerous place. Landslides and lava eruptions have buried entire villages. Floods and tsunamis have devastated coastlines. Numerous hurricanes have caused billions of dollars in damages to homes and buildings.

Every winter, significant ocean swells are spawned by storms thousands of miles north of the Hawaiian Islands. Huge waves generated by these swells arrive along the northern shores of the Hawaiian Islands. Many of Hawai‘i’s bravest and most daring surfers attempt to ride these monstrous winter waves.

Ocean conditions during the winter months, however, are not for the inexperienced, and many lives have ended prematurely due to the large ocean waves that constantly buffet the Hawaiian Islands.

[i] Pukui, Mary Kawena, and Elbert, Samuel H. Hawaiian Dictionary: Revised and Enlarged Edition. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

[ii] p. 99, Pukui, Mary Kawena. ‘Ōlelo No‘eau: Hawaiian Proverbs & Poetical Sayings. Honolulu: Bishop Museum Press, 1983. Proverb 923.